Born into Farmers' Markets
Victor Martino was literally born with farmers' market in his blood. His mother, who is now 78 years old, was among the first group of farmers who founded San Francisco's first farmers' market on Alemany Boulevard 50 years ago. Starting at about age 4, Victor got up with his mother at 3 a.m. on Saturday mornings to accompany her on the 90-mile drive from Denair to San Francisco's Alemany Farmers' Market where she sold mainly freestone peaches from the Martino family's 30 acre orchards. Even today, BellaViva has a stand at the Alemany Farmers' Market every Saturday.
Fresh and Dried Fruits
Victor now runs the family orchards and has expanded the acreage to over 100 acres. He's fortunate to have married Angie who brings to the Martino family a strong marketing flare. She's added a line of dried fruits and chocolate dipped "confections" to BellaViva's product line and runs the sales and marketing of all of their fresh and dried fruits and nuts, sold in gift packs during the Christmas season. (They're available at the Market year round and are also available by mail order direct from BellaViva at the address listed above. You can also shop on-line through their website.) The fruits are all sun-dried and then given a light sulfur dioxide treatment to prevent discoloration. For people who are allergic to sulfur or just prefer the untreated fruits, BellaViva also has "no sulfur" varieties available. They're a bit darker in color and a little more expensive, but very popular.
As Victor and Angie expanded the original Martino family's orchards, they decided to change the name of their operation to "BellaViva" for their two daughters Belle and Vivian, who are now 9 and 11, respectively.
Inheriting the Martino Family Tradition
Under Angie's guidance, BellaViva sells all of the output of their 100 acre orchard direct to customers at farmers' markets around the Bay Area and direct to grocery stores. She doesn't sell to wholesalers or brokers. Inheriting the Martino tradition, today Angie makes the early morning drive from Denair to the Ferry Plaza Market and personally runs the BellaViva stand on Saturday's with a charming vigor and pride in the Martino family.
Following the Seasons
The BellaViva stand at the Market goes through a metamorphosis during the growing season. From September to May, you'll find only huge bins of dried peaches, pears, nectarines, fresh grapefruits and raisins as well as pre-packaged gift packs of mixed fruits.
But starting around Mother's Day, BellaViva Orchard's stand turns into a fresh fruit bonanza when the first harvest of apricots and cherries comes in. From mid-May until October, its a seemingly endless succession of fresh stone fruits and nuts:
Cherries Bing and Black Tartarian
Apricots Castelbrite, Improved Flaming Gold, Modesto, Patterson, Tilton and Westlery. (Modesto's are the best according to Angie.)
Peaches Of the 14 varieties they grow, the first to come in, and among the very best according to Angie, are the Gold Dust that start in early June. They're small peaches without much visual appeal, warns Angie, but they're "sweet, sweet, sweet!". The Red Globes and O'Henry that start coming a few weeks later are also not to be missed.
Nectarines BellaViva offers 3 types of yellow-fleshed nectarines Early Sun Grand, Fantasia, and Flavortop. Fantasia can be identified by their dotted skin. They're extremely fragrant and flavorful. BellaViva is one of the few growers to offer a white-fleshed nectarine called "Arctic Rose", which is sweet and succulent. This variety will be available from May to September and is at its peak in July.
Figs BellaViva is famous for their fresh Black Mission and Kadota Figs. They start coming into season in July and last until October. After the fresh season is over, BellaViva offers them as dried fruit.
Citrus From a few trees growing around the house, Angie will occasionally bring some oranges and grapefruits to the Market, but this is not BellaViva's specialty.
Grapes Muscat, Red Flame, Thompson Seedless and Black Manukas are the main varieties sold at the Market. From July to September, you'll be able to buy them fresh, then as raisins starting in the fall.
The Martino's have won several awards for "Best in the District", San Francisco's "Farmer of the Year" and the California Peach Association's "First in Quality" award. There's a remarkable spirit that the family members bring to their business and a true dedication to doing the best job they can to produce a superior quality stone fruit. It's a treat to have their produce at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market!
May 1996; updated September 2000.
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